Executive Director's Column

A Golden Opportunity

The APA Board of Scientific Affairs and the APA Science Directorate have launched a major new initiative - Psychological Science for the 21st Century (Psy21).

By Steven Breckler, PhD

The APA Board of Scientific Affairs and the APA Science Directorate have launched a major new initiative - Psychological Science for the 21st Century (Psy21). Built around three interlocking areas of emphasis, PSY21 provides the foundation on which APA will help to advance the science of psychology. The three areas of emphasis include:

  • Responsible Conduct of Research
  • Culture of Service to the Discipline
  • Infrastructure for the Science of Psychology

I want to focus here on the third of these - infrastructure for the science of psychology. Infrastructure refers to shared and costly resources that support the work of scientists across the discipline. A good example is in the area of cognitive neuroscience, which depends on the availability of magnetic resonance imaging facilities and expertise. Another example is the growth of large-scale, sometimes longitudinal data sets. The PSY21 initiative will help to identify the infrastructure needs of psychological science, and will provide much needed advocacy for support by federal funding agencies.

Financial support is going to be critical for the development of our infrastructure. The tools and resources we need to move psychological science to the next level will be expensive. A sustained and intense advocacy and lobbying effort will be needed to secure the kind of funding it takes to develop and support significant infrastructure.

Against this backdrop, it is especially encouraging to see a new program solicitation from the National Science Foundation. NSF promises to invest $4 million in Next Generation Cybertools, specifically with application to complex behavior of organizations and individuals. This is a new competition for NSF, sponsored jointly by the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) and the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). This is big, and it is important.

NSF defines cybertools as "methodologies and tools for the representation and manipulation of large volumes of data for heterogeneous, multimodal sources, on either organizations or individuals." Examples cited in the program solicitation include tools for social and behavioral informatics, and tools for information integration. The proposing teams must include relevant expertise from both the social and behavioral sciences and from computer science. Projects are more likely to succeed the more they span across the social and behavioral sciences, ideally connecting to other disciplines as well.

The collaboration with computer science is critical. This is a chance for social and behavioral scientists to work directly with computer scientists in developing tools and infrastructure in service of social and behavioral science. Psychological science currently relies on tools that were developed for other purposes - off-the-shelf hardware and software, sometimes slightly modified, with which we make do. Imagine the new possibilities when advanced tools are developed from the outset with social and behavioral science needs and applications in mind.

It is important that psychology greet this funding opportunity with energy and enthusiasm. NSF will be encouraged to sustain such support if a large number of high-quality proposals get submitted for this competition. Who knows - future NSF competitions might encourage similar collaborations with engineering or mathematics, with the same goal of developing and enhancing the infrastructure of social and behavioral science.

The new program solicitation is posted on the NSF web site. Follow the advice given in the program solicitation - contact the NSF program officers, and read the background documents on cyberinfrastructure. Submit a strong proposal, and you might find yourself at the leading edge of psychological science in the 21st century.